Photo: AJ Savolainen

Nuppu Koivisto Conducts Research on Women’s Restaurant Music Activities and Women Composers

As a researcher, my identity is clearly that of a historian, even though I have also engaged in Art Studies. I feel that the world of Western art music is changing slowly. For instance, both in Finland and abroad, symphony orchestras still play only little music that has been composed by supposed women.

“In the summer of 2014, I graduated as a Master of Philosophy with European History as my main subject, and I got my PhD in the fall of 2019. My doctoral dissertation discussed women’s salon orchestras in the Grand Duchy of Finland.

In the Uniarts History Forum, my research topic is in many ways related to the current cultural debate. Lately, the themes of gender, class, and ethnicity have been raised in connection with the history of music particularly due to the #MeToo campaign. For example, the production of supposed women composers in our concert culture has been discussed in the Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper.

What fascinates me most is individual persons, their lives and everyday life. Tracing the steps of women musicians and composers throughout 19th century Europe was exciting detective work. Women musicians and composers have been left out of the canons of the history of music. It is challenging to find any biographical material, such as letters or diaries, about them. The research work also entails practical challenges, such as learning to read old handwriting and maintaining language skills.

Usually, I spend mornings writing and afternoons reading research literature and carrying out administrative work. In addition to that, I also teach. My favorite days are the days spent exploring the archives when I can take my time and dive deep into the world of my research subjects. I also take some archive and conference trips abroad.

The gender-based structures within the history of Western art music have only begun to be challenged in the past decades. Earlier, women’s musical pursuits were not all that often deemed worth researching. Marginalization has been particularly strong in the case of racialized women who have come from humble social backgrounds and played popular music.

When it comes to leading an orchestra, the breaking of glass ceilings is still work in progress. So far, the #MeToo movement has had a stronger impact on the Finnish movie and theater industry than the Finnish music industry. There is still hope, however. For instance, this fall, the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann was prominently featured in the media.”

Nuppu Koivisto’s doctoral dissertation Electric Lights, Champagne, and a Wiener Damenkapelle: Ladies’ Salon Orchestras and Transnational Variety Show Networks in Finland, 1877–1916 is also available in electronic format via the E-thesis service.

An article on Nuppu Koivisto’s doctoral dissertation in the Finnish Helsingin Sanomat newspaper